Monday, August 1, 2011

Are We For Real in our Pursuit of Happiness?

(I guess that qualifies as the longest blog title by me...ever)

What makes a person happy? If you remember one of my previous post, I was reading this book called Hector and the Search of Happiness. I didn't really follow through on that topic, as I was merely highlighting the important parts of what I thought was a really simple yet engaging story.

I don't know why (maybe you do?), but I feel this sudden urge to revisit this theme of happiness. It could be because I am surrounded by too many people who have nothing good to say about their work, their partners, their income, their life in general. And yet, people are more exposed to self-help materials and motivational thoughts than ever before. Psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist and just plain old counselors are increasing by the day.

Lots of folks spend good money on motivation courses and companies go out of their way to create a "happy work environment". But the reality is that my generation and the generations after mine are increasingly easily dissatisfied over everything and then none.

I've met folks my age who already has gone through 3-4 different jobs in the course of 2-3 years, some even more. I know of couples who have gone through divorce at a very young age, and some have even remarried and are now apparently in the process of breaking up again! I've seen government servants whose education were fully sponsored by the government unhappy that their pay is not the same as those in the private sector. I know of private sector employees unhappy that they're not getting tenure and hospital benefits like those in the government sector.

When the NPE (New Pantai Expressway) was first being built, a lot of Subang Jaya folks were complaining about the traffic jams and slow pace of work. Apparently they don't need the highway. But now, years after completion, Subang folks can't imagine what life would be without the NPE. The other day I was reading about KL folks complaining that the covered walkways being built (along Jalan Pinang etc) is a waste of time and money. Once it's completed, I'll bet they'll complain DBKL didn't build enough.

In other words, we are an easily dissatisfied lot, and whatever satisfies us would only be temporal before we find the next thing to whine and complain about. Why is this so? Why do generations before us can be happy earning half of what some graduates are earning now doing something that's 1/4 as exciting as what some of us are doing?

I was thinking hard about this (well, not really. I was in the toilet...and let's just leave it at that) and I've come to a conclusion we're a bunch of whiners because WE THINK WE CAN.

We're brought up in an environment that encourages dream-building, that espouses "You're The Best" mantras all the time, that highlights more and more success, that promotes the best of the best. When we were kids, our parents no longer say shit like "You're an idiot, learn how to be useful with tools". Instead, we are told "You're special. It's okay you can't read, maybe you'll be a math genius someday".

You think your teachers weren't encouraging enough? Tell me how many of us know of a kid in our class who was actually held back because he or she is an idiot? Even if that kid can't spell "shit" without shitting in his pants, they'd say "Perlu banyak bantuan" and then send him straight up to the next level.

We watch a lot of television, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it's basically a fragment of the best of reality. It creates a culture of, "If he can do it, so can I". We even have a lot of movies where fat ugly people are shown to be able to get the hot beautiful cheerleader/quarterback/Mr.Popular. Books, magazines, movies, papers...every media (despite the so-called depressing news) seems to promote a world of infinite possibilities.

Hey, even if you're an ugly jerk with zero personality, you could get someone super-hot and sweet at the same time. Hey, if you're stupid with an IQ of a donkey, you could still come up with a brilliant start-up and become a billionaire. Hey, a divorce is alright, see all these happy kids of divorced parents on TV. Hey, you can go to space, but only if you're a good-looking dude.

This creates a generation of individuals who believe they can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do. People say that youths are too negative but the reality is that I think they carry too many unrealistic expectations.

Nowadays, every kid wants to be an Internet mogul with billions in values through creating puff online games that has no actual economic value except to destroy work productivity. Nowadays, every guy thinks that they should get the hottest girl (thanks to all these nerd gets hot girl TV shows and movies) and every girl thinks that they could marry the perfect man (based on the mindless Sophie Kinsella-type novels they read growing up).

Politics and governance is another area where we carry ideals that seems to be based on a perfect world when in fact we live in an imperfect one. We whine when we earn less than RM 10K, but we expect our YBs to be perfectly happy living their life on RM 6-7 k a month. We want our government officers to be smart, educated, high achievers, when most of us who are smart, educated, high-achievers go and apply to join GLCs or private investment banks for better pay and prestige. We want our police to be like those in CSI, but never have we encouraged our smart children to become policemen.

Reality check! No, not everyone can be Seal and marry Heidi Klum. Yes, if you're obese the likelihood of you contracting diseases and not find a life-partner is higher than the average person. No, not every math whiz can create the next Google. Yes, you'll have to settle for that job of yours for a bit longer because you're not good enough for a promotion.

(Haven't you realized that not a single one of your friends ever said something like, "Oh, yeah. My boss is right in not promoting me and giving me a raise. I'm just not ready for that responsibility". EVERYONE thinks they deserve a raise, can take over their bosses job, and should be CEO by 30)

I've long discovered that I am at my happiest when my current situation or a situation in which I have control over, is directly in sync with my EXPECTATION of that situation. For example, someone that realistically have calculated that the average educated person below 30 earns between RM 3-4K a month would have been happy if he or she is in turn earning RM 5-6 K a month.

The problem is, we are now more and more exposed to individuals who are anomalies, and they're highlighted as if they're the norm. Those under 30 earning more than RM 10,000 a month? Those Investment Bankers earning one year bonuses in a failing economy? These are statistical anomalies and yet they become the poster boys and girls of our generation, creating a chasm between reality and hyper-reality.

When that happens, and based on our natural instinct to always compare with others, we become these ungrateful, unhappy, attention-seeking generation who forgets that in life, true happiness lies not in the absolute result, but how much that result matches our own expectations.

I too am brought up in this "Yes, we can" environment. And it has helped me a lot achieve what I have achieved. But not everyone is fortunate enough to have results that matches their expectations. Go ahead, dream as much as you want, but make sure your dream doesn't create an unrealistic vision of yourself. Maybe then, we'll be a little bit more happy with what we have.

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